The eleventh round of the 2019 MotoGP World Championship, the Austrian Grand Prix, took place at the Red Bull Ring, as Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) won a classic duel with Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team), a battle which will surely be remembered as one of the greats.
Despite consensus that Yamaha would have a tough time in the race, it was Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) who took the early lead. Dovizioso had made the holeshot, but Marquez block-passed him in turn three on the opening lap, and this allowed Quartararo into the lead.
The Frenchman led for the first laps, but eventually Dovizioso and then Marquez found their way through, the speed of the satellite YZR-M1 offering little resistance against the factory Desmosedici of Dovizioso or the factory RC213V of Marquez.
When Dovizioso went to the front, the front group was of five riders, but with a crash out from fourth place for Jack Miller (Pramac Racing), who had been dropping off slightly and into the clutches of Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP), in turn nine on lap eight created a gap behind Quartararo who had slipped to third, whilst Marquez had taken the lead from Dovizioso.
With Marquez in front, he and Dovizioso started to move clear of Quartararo and Rossi behind. In this phase of the race, Quartararo was clever, clinging on to the two riders in front, taking their slipstream and their target, and using those to help pull himself clear of Rossi behind. Ultimately, Quartararo did not have the pace to go with Marquez or Dovizioso – which was expected, such is the speed deficit of the Yamaha – but the laps immediately after he lost the lead were important for his final result.
Ominously, for the next ten laps, Marquez led. He had a similar margin to that which he had in Brno one week before. On that occasion, he was able to break away in the latter stages of the race with superior pace, but this time it was not to be. Dovizioso came back through on lap nineteen, and began his own stint in front which, amusingly, started with him dropping the pace by one second from 1’24.5 to 1’25.5.
It seemed, though, that the assumption of the lead by Dovizioso was partly the doing of Marquez, who appeared to roll the throttle on the front straight, which allowed Dovizioso to go into turn one first on lap nineteen. Marquez couldn’t break Dovizioso, so now he needed to study his rival.
Studying was over with three laps to go, as the Spaniard made his move and went back to the front. Marquez was keen to avoid the situation of 2017 and 2018 in Austria, when he lost out on both occasions to Ducati riders on the final lap. Going early was a chance for the Spaniard to avoid a last-lap fight.
But Dovizioso hung on. The Italian tried to respond in turn nine, two corners after Marquez hit the front, but ran wide. Once more, he tried in turn one, but ran wide. Dovizioso knew he couldn’t let Marquez make a rhythm in the final laps, and he was trying everything to disturb that.
The #04 was able to stick with the #93 on the penultimate lap, and a strong run out of the final corner for the penultimate time allowed the Italian another opportunity in the first corner. Once again, though, he ran wide and Marquez carved his way back underneath on the exit.
After turn four, overtaking in the Red Bull Ring is difficult, as there are no herd braking points between the fourth turn and the tenth, so Dovizioso knew he needed to make a pass stick in either turn three or turn four. Marquez was strong on the brakes in turn three, and fast in the middle too, meaning Dovizioso was unable to make a move these places. It seemed that the Italian was out of chances, but he had been strong in the final sector throughout the race.
As he had been able to do for the whole race, Dovizioso got a better drive than Marquez through turn eight – just as Jorge Lorenzo had done the year before in his fight against Marquez – and was deep on the brakes in turn nine; he carried good speed through the penultimate corner, before making a lunge on Marquez in the final turn, a role reversal of the 2017 edition. Unlike Marquez two years before, Dovizioso was able to turn the bike at the apex, block his rival’s line on the exit, and power to the line. Ducati’s 100% record in Austria remained in tact, courtesy of some fine riding by Dovizioso, arguably the best race of his career.
Marquez, then, remains winless in Austria, the only race on the calendar to elude him. The mistake which cost him was made before the race, as the Spaniard chose the medium rear instead of the soft, as chosen by Dovizioso. The medium simply didn’t give Marquez the grip he needed, especially on the more critical right-hand side (Austria has seven rights compared to only three lefts). This is why Dovizioso was able to drive so much better through turn eight, brake so much deeper in turn nine, and accelerate so much better from turn ten. Missing out on an Austrian GP win will have frustrated Marquez, but only until he checked the standings and reminded himself that his championship advantage remains at fifty-eight points.
Featured image courtesy of Ducati